WASHINGTON — The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff thinks it’s time for America’s military to stop sitting around “studying the heck” out of its potential space solutions and instead begin testing them in orbit.
Gen. John Hyten, a longtime space officer who most recently served as the head of U.S. Strategic Command, also used a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies to give an updated timetable on the announcement of U.S. Space Command’s headquarters.
Hyten said he is “a little frustrated at our ability to go fast” on new space capabilities, despite the focus in recent years on designing flexible, low-cost systems that should make up the core of the so-called space-based sensor layer sought by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. The MDA is seeking a sensor layer consisting of a network of satellites in low-Earth orbit to monitor activity on Earth and help track the threat of hypersonic weapons, which Hyten described as a priority.
“Put some sensors on some satellites, fly them cheap, fly them fast, see what they can do and then figure out what you need to actually go build,” Hyten said of the systems that can go into low- or medium-Earth orbit. “If you do that we’ll go infinitely faster, save enormous amounts of time, enormous amounts of money, and you’ll get the capability faster."
“But that’s not the way we do it. We try to study the heck out of it to get a perfect answer before we start something. I think that’s crazy,” he said, adding that a 50 percent solution “is good enough” to go start testing.
Systems in LEO and MEO are the “only way to get a global capability that is affordable to deter that threat,” he said.
Hyten also revealed his belief that the basing decision for Space Command could be as far as a year out, although he noted that the Air Force is in charge of that decision.
“I think it will be sometime in the next year. I can’t tell you exactly when. … It’s kept very close hold and goes through a very structured process because it becomes so political,” he said “I do know that we need a decision this year sometime. As long as we have it this year sometime, we’ll be OK. … I hope it happens sooner, but we need it in a year.”
Bases in Colorado and California have been identified by the Air Force as potential locations for Space Command to set up its headquarters, but lawmakers from Florida are pushing for their state.
He also noted a need for the Pentagon to come up with a plan for how to incorporate Army and Navy personnel into the Space Force, as Congress is expecting an answer by the time the fiscal 2022 budget is rolled out — and lawmakers could force their own views on the Defense Department if the military doesn’t provide a detailed plan. “We would like to have a voice in that decision, which means we have to do it pretty quick,” he said.
Capabilities that apply space into a maneuvering unit or a fleet should stay with the current force, Hyten opined, but offices that build, fly or deliver space systems belong in the Space Force going forward. He also called the National Guard a “perfect” partner on the space mission, perhaps even better suited than the active component because of the possibility of standing up Guard units with specific expertise based around commercial hubs.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.